People in the Midwest tend to liken the Culver’s chain to In N-Out Burger: quality fast food with a loyal following. Fair enough, they’re both very successful and delicious burger chains, but why does the Wisconsin based company feel the need to compare itself to its glitzy California cousin? You might find out with the top 10 untold truths of Culver’s.
10. In the Beginning
Culver’s began as a single restaurant opened by Craig and Lea Culver in 1984. You could say that the restaurant business was in Craig’s blood since his parents were running an A&W drive-in in the small town of Sauk City, Wisconsin. Craig worked at McDonald’s after graduating from college and learned a lot about the fast-food business. With the help of his parents, Craig hit the ground running and his single location steadily grew into one of the Midwest’s most successful fast-food chains. The chain became well known for its signature ButterBurgers and frozen custard. In 2013, Culver’s Franchising System was rated the top in franchise satisfaction in a survey by Franchise Business Review. Culver’s opened its 100th store in 2000 and its 400th store in 2009. By 2015, it celebrated the opening of its 535th store and took in $1 billion in annual revenues. That same year was the year Craig Culver announced he was stepping down from running the company and would turn over the reins to the president and CEO. Culver’s built a new corporate headquarters in Prairie du Sac, Wisconsin in 2009. Craig Culver and the rest of the Culver family should be proud of the successful fast-food chain they’ve built. Culver’s is a place millions of people continue to enjoy on a regular basis.
9. Nothing Succeeds Like Success
An important part of Culver’s story is how they weren’t always so successful. As a new and struggling restaurant in a small town in Wisconsin, it almost failed. This would not have been odd since most new restaurants fail, but Craig Culver stuck it out and the rest is fast-food history. Culver’s is now known as one of the most successful franchises you can invest in. While the national failure rate for franchises is around 17 percent, Culver’s failure rate is astonishingly low at less than 2 percent. The franchising process is taken very seriously by the people at Culver’s. This means they are particularly picky about who they will allow to become a franchisee. For Culver’s it’s not just about having the money to invest in a successful operation. All potential operators are required to attend a boot camp where they are put to work at a Culver’s restaurant to learn the fast-food chain ropes and prove they have what it takes to be Culver’s operators. Unlike many franchises, Culver’s has resisted the temptation to expand too quickly. Expansion can bring more profits, at least in the short term, but other fast-food chains have experienced the downside in the form of store closures and even bankruptcy. This Wisconsin based fast-food chain seems to have found a successful formula that will keep it going strong for the foreseeable future. The company has expanded as far west as Arizona, but it would be interesting to see Culver’s enter the California market.
8. Wisconsin Means Dairy
Wisconsin is widely known as the Cheese State, but when settlers first moved into the area that would later become the state of Wisconsin, they didn’t start out as dairy farmers. Wheat was considered the future of Wisconsin. Economic and agricultural changes after the Civil War made Wisconsin’s wheat an unprofitable crop, so dairy farming became the better option. The cow population soared in Wisconsin and by the end of the 19th century, about 90 percent of the farms in Wisconsin were raising dairy cows instead of growing crops like wheat. One of the reasons dairy farming succeeded in Wisconsin was the fact that many settlers to the region were from New York, where dairy farming was already thriving. Culver’s seems to take Wisconsin’s dairy history seriously and has incorporated it into its successful fast-food chain. All of Culver’s dairy products, from its cheeses to its frozen custards, are bought from local Wisconsin dairy farms. Many of the farmers Culver’s works with have been producing quality dairy products for several generations and appreciate the relationship they’ve built with the restaurant chain. All of this effort hasn’t gone to waste because Culver’s customers continue to rave about Culver’s frozen custards, malts, and shakes. It makes you wonder if Culver’s is a hamburger place that sells frozen custard or a frozen custard place that sells hamburgers. We’re fine with either one because it all sounds delicious.
7. Boot Camp
Culver’s takes its franchising seriously, so seriously in fact it requires potential franchisees to attend its version of a boot camp. Anyone who wants to operate a Culver’s location will spend 16 weeks at a corporate store in Wisconsin to learn the ins and outs of Culver’s way of running a fast-food chain. Culver’s boot camp consists of 15 hour days filled with all the big and little jobs it takes to run a restaurant. But it’s not at all glamorous – there’s a lot emptying trash, taking orders, and flipping burgers. Culver’s founder, Craig Culver likes to think of his boot camp as a proving ground for his operators, but also as an opportunity for him to meet and get to know all of his franchisees personally. Many people succeed, but not everyone is cut out for the fast-paced fast-food business, so people who don’t measure up can be dropped from the next class of franchisees. With only 3 classes of 12 franchisees a year, the spots are coveted, but Mr. Culver likes to keep things small so the company can continue to grow at a slow and steady pace. He credits this approach with expanding the number of stores into new markets without having to close a single one. Other fast-food chains have provided a cautionary tale with quick expansion followed by a lot of closings. Culver’s seems to embody the stereotype of hardworking and sensible Midwesterners getting the job done right without a lot of muss and fuss.
6. Allen & Wright Root Beer
When Craig Culver decided to open his own restaurant with the help of his parents, he knew something about the restaurant industry because his parents had been in the industry for decades. George and Ruth Culver bought an A&W Root Beer restaurant in the 1960’s. Their restaurant was in Sauk City, Wisconsin and this was the same site where the first Culver’s was opened in 1984. With his parents’ A&W experience and his experience as a McDonald’s employee, the family hit the ground running when they branched out on their own. There are some similarities between A&W restaurants and Culver’s restaurants including the soft serve ice cream and frozen custard respectively, cheese curds, root beer and root beer floats. Both fast food chains appear to be competing for a similar customer base and there seems to be plenty of customers for both of them to go around. You might decide which restaurant to frequent based on whether you prefer frozen custard or soft serve or if you’re in the mood for a ButterBurger or a chili dog. Both seem to be a good choice for fast food lovers. Would we be surprised if the Culver family has a soft spot for the A&W restaurant near them?
5. Frosty the Root Beer
What is the “root” in root beer? You were itching to know so here it is: root beer is made from the root bark of the Sassafras tree or the vine of the Smilax Ornata. Even if you’ve never heard of these ingredients what’s important here is that these ingredients produce a uniquely spicy-sweet flavor that is unlike any other flavor of soda. Unlike cola, root beer is naturally caffeine free. And just like cola, root beer is sometimes used with rum and vodka to make a number of alcoholic drinks. Culver’s has always had root beer on the menu, minus the alcohol, and the fast food chain is proud to offer its own signature version of the soda. Once he perfected his recipe Craig Culver started selling it to customers right out of wooden barrels. He loved root beer growing up and was determined to have his own version of this drink to offer to customers when he opened his own restaurant. You can order it straight up or with a scoop of Culver’s famous vanilla frozen custard for a refreshing and delicious root beer float. Depending on how thirsty you are, you can choose small, medium or large drink. Its unique flavor means Root beer isn’t for everyone, a lot of people either love it or hate it, but for those that do enjoy it, Culver’s is one of the best places to get a frosty glass of root beer. Scoopie is a popular mascot so why not Frosty the root beer mascot?
4. Scoopie Go Home
Although not nearly as famous as McDonald’s mascot Ronald McDonald, Culver’s can boast a beloved mascot of its own. Scoopie is an anthropomorphic frozen custard cone. He has big, expressive eyes and a charming smile that kids can’t resist. Culver’s is at least as well known for its frozen custard as it is for it hamburgers and it doesn’t have burger mascot named Patty so this should tell us something right? However, the fast food chain did feel the need to add several more mascots over the years, but why still no Patty? Culver’s came up with Fudge the dog, Curdis the curd and Goldie the curd. These characters sure don’t have the same punch as the classic McDonald’s mascots like the Hamburgler and Mayor McCheese. Aside from frozen custard and burgers, Culver’s has a reputation for offering the best cheese curds in the midwest. Like most product mascots Scoopie and the gang are part of Culver’s advertising, public relations and charitable efforts. You can often see the lovable mascots appearing in commercials, visiting kids and fundraising on behalf of worthy causes supported by Culver’s. Even McDonald’s has gotten rid of its gang of mascots, except for Ronald himself. Supposedly this is because the chain wants to be able to pretend it isn’t trying too hard to cater to little kids. It’s nice to see a fast food chain like Culver’s that still believes in the value of having a little fun.
3. Squeaky Cheese
Apparently to some people cheese curds are called squeaky cheese, but Culver’s decided to stick with the name “cheese curds.” Cheese curds are the solid pieces of milk that are leftover when producing milk. Some people might be tempted to think of the curds as a waste product, but In other parts of the United States where dairy farms are part of the culture, including Wisconsin, cheese curds are a popular part of the local cuisine. Culver’s version of cheese curds are a deep fried concoction with a golden brown coating so they’re crispy on the outside but creamy on the inside. Some people order them as a side with a ButterBurger instead of french fries and some people order both. The cheese curds at Culver’s are made with un-aged Wisconsin yellow and white cheddar and have long been a popular snack at the Midwest fast food chain. According to Culver’s website, the company gets all the cheese for its cheese curds from La Grander Hillside Dairy in Stanley, Wisconsin. These deep fried cheese curds are available in two sizes: regular and large so you can order enough of this savory snack for even the biggest appetites. A lot of people would probably agree that squeaky cheese is a strange name for a cheese snack, but whatever you call them Culver’s cheese curds will continue to be a customer favorite.
2. Custard’s Last Stand
For everyone not from the Midwest of the United States, frozen custard is basically ice cream. Technically it’s different, as people from the Midwest will tell you, because it contains eggs as well as cream and sugar. Culver’s has always been proud of its duel heritage as a great burger place and a delicious ice cream… – frozen custard shop. Culver’s has more tasty frozen custard treats than some dedicated ice cream shops can muster. The Wisconsin based fast food chain offers cones, sundaes, dishes, shakes, malts and root beer floats. The restaurant also offers a frozen treat they call Concrete Mixers. These are a combination of frozen custard and bits of your favorite treats such as peanut butter cups and toffee pieces. If you don’t have enough of an appetite to have some frozen custard while you’re still at Culver’s you can bring containers of your favorite flavors home to enjoy later. You can’t get McDonald’s soft serve to take home for later, but it sounds like a good idea. Every Culver’s location offers chocolate and vanilla frozen custard as well as a flavor of the day. The flavor of the day is picked from a list of 80 flavors so you never know what you’re going to get at any particular Culver’s locations. Even if you don’t like burgers and fries there are plenty of reasons to go to Culver’s: you can get your favorite frozen custard treats, a root beer float or fried cheese curds.
1. The ButterBurger
Culver’s take its signature burger very seriously. “ButterBurger” is a registered trademark of the Wisconsin based fast food chain. It all starts with the beef – a combination of fresh and never frozen Sirloin, Chuck and Plate Beef are ground up for Culver’s burger patties which are pressed and seared to keep the moisture in and then grilled to order. You knew butter would come into the picture at some point. Every Culver’s bun is toasted and slathered with a bit of fresh butter. Customers have several versions of the ButterBurger to choose from starting with “The Original.” This is the basic ButterBurger with a single beef patty and topped with pickles, onions, mustard and ketchup. For bigger appetites there is the Culver’s Deluxe, which features a pair of beef patties. For ultimate burger gluttony you couldn’t do much better than the Cheddar ButterBurger with Bacon. The appeal of this particular burger is pretty obvious to burger lovers with its combination of two patties, Wisconsin Cheddar cheese and slices of crispy bacon. This is a mouth watering choice to be sure, but there’s also the Wisconsin Swiss Melt with grilled red onions, Wisconsin Swiss cheese and grilled rye bread. All of these burgers sound good, but whichever ButterBurger you choose you’ll have to try to leave room for one of Culver’s sides that include French fries, onion rings and cheese curds. Also, don’t forget the frozen custard!